Manchester United clash has recent history in being measure of Leeds United's progress
MANCHESTER United will face a Leeds United side very much on the rise at Elland Road tomorrow.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites might have been defeated 6-2 at Old Trafford in December but Leeds are now unbeaten in five and even beat the champions-elect Manchester City during that run.
To a degree, tomorrow’s contest will be a good measure of progress since being hit for six in December.
It was a similar tale when the Red Devils and Whites met at Elland Road back in September 1997.
Back then, Leeds were being measured Manchester United-wise to a 4-0 hammering from their arch rivals from September of the previous year.
Title-winning boss Howard Wilkinson then found himself sacked.
But one year on, Leeds showed clear green shoots of recovery and earned a memorable victory in the process as David Wetherall’s header sealed a 1-0 triumph at Elland Road.
Nicky Butt, Karel Poborsky and Eric Cantona had all been on target in addition to a Nigel Martyn own goal as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side romped to a 4-0 victory at Elland Road in September 1996.
Wilkinson was then sacked following an overall disappointing start to the new campaign and former Arsenal boss George Graham became the new man in the hot seat.
Leeds were back facing the Red Devils just three months later as the Old Trafford rematch fell on December 28 and a Cantona penalty saw Ferguson’s side complete a Whites double against their Roses rivals.
The Red Devils went on to win the league in finishing seven points clear of runners up Newcastle United whereas Graham’s Whites had to settle for finishing 11th after netting just 28 goals.
But one goal proved enough for victory the next time Manchester United were in town on Saturday, September 27, 1997.
The victory came as part of a season in which an improving Leeds side rocketed up the table to finish fifth and only three places behind the Red Devils who had to settle the runners-up berth as Arsenal took their title.
Arsene Wenger’s side denied Ferguson’s outfit by a solitary point meaning the September loss at Leeds was ultimately crucial.
And centre back Wetherall got the only goal of the game with a fine diving header 11 minutes before the break.
The likes of David Beckham, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Teddy Sheringham and even present day boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all started for the visitors who went close early on through Poborsky who was denied by Nigel Martyn.
But Graham’s side had already threatened with Rod Wallace played through on goal but let down by poor control allowing a grateful Peter Schmeichel to smother.
Schmeichel was then scrambling across a goal soon after when Bruno Ribeiro let fly with an effort from outside the box after a mazy run but the ball flew just wide of the post.
But there was nothing Schmeichel could do in the 34th minute when Gary Kelly’s floated free kick from 35 yards out was met by a diving header from Wetherall which sent the ball flying into the bottom left corner.
Schmeichel booted the ball away in anger and several Whites fans spilled on to the Elland Road pitch to celebrate what proved the only goal of the game as Leeds then dug deep after the break.
Keeper Martyn proved unbeatable and this time the bragging rights belonged to Leeds.
It was all rather different to the last time the two teams played.
“Everybody likes to beat them and to score the winning goal was a great experience,” said Wetherall.
“But we have had quite a few games where we have played extremely well, Newcastle at home as well, to beat them 4-1 was a great result for us and I was lucky enough to score again that day.
“There’s been a few and hopefully there’s a few more big highlights to come.”
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Thank you Laura Collins